After a fantastic first month to his NHL career, Vitek Vanecek was awarded the honor of being named rookie of the month. The 25-year-old native of the Czech Republic finally made his much-anticipated debut during the 2021 season after originally being drafted in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft by the Washington Capitals. Thanks to a variety of circumstances that have fallen in front of him, Vanecek has seized the opportunity and claimed the starting role. How has Vanecek earned the opportunity to play in so many games for the Washington Capitals and how did he take advantage of his opportunity?
Problems with Washington Capitals Goaltenders
During the offseason, the Washington Capitals decided to part ways with their former star goaltender Braden Holtby. Holtby signed a two-year contract worth nearly $10 million with the Vancouver Canucks during the 2020 offseason. Ilya Samsonov took over the starting goaltender position after the departure of Braden Holtby. The Capitals signed Henrik Lundqvist to backup and help mentor Ilya Samsonov. In a tragic and sad turn of events, Lundqvist needed to get an open heart surgery that will hopefully help cure his heart condition. Much love goes out to Lundqvist in his recovery and that he can one day return to the NHL.
At this point, Vitek Vanecek had now become the backup goalie. However, Craig Anderson was invited to the Washington Capitals training camp following the Lundqvist announcement. Craig Anderson is an NHL veteran goalie that has had a very successful career. He has a career .913 save percentage and a career 2.84 goals-against average. Although those numbers are very respectable, the past few seasons have not been as good statistically.
In each of the last three seasons, his goals-against average has been above three. He also has had a save percentage that was right around .900%. Anderson made the team and was expected to assume the position of backup goalie for the Capitals and make Vitek Vanecek the third-string goalie.
After the start of the 2021 NHL season, many players contracted COVID-19 including Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov along with Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were put in COVID-19 protocol after hanging out together without masks on. Samsonov and the three other players could not play in games for two weeks. During this time, Vitek Vanecek was thrust into the starting goalie position and he took advantage of the opportunity.
Vitek Vanecek Seizes the Opportunity
In January, Vitek Vanecek got the opportunity to become the starting goalie of the Washington Capitals. He played eight games for Washington and played very well. In his first eight games of the season, his numbers look very impressive. He had a saver percentage of .913% on the 275 shots he faced and allowed an average of 2.94 goals during the first eight games of the season and his career.
He has only lost one game in regulation thus far in his career. The one regulation loss can not solely be blamed on Vitek Vanecek as the Capitals absolutely collapsed in the third period of their matchup against the Boston Bruins. If you want to read up on the game then check out Amy Toleman’s article as she breaks down the entire game.
Despite the one loss, Vanecek has been very impressive. He has won five games in his eight opportunities. Due to his strong showing during January, people should expect Vanecek to get more opportunities to play despite Ilya Samsonov returning to the Capitals lineup. Expect Samsonov and Vanecek to split games for the remainder of the season. With a strong team in front of the goalies, there should be strong performances out of both of them
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